I use Vim quite a bit and fairly heavily, so I run into a good amount of bugs. I’ll share a couple tricks I’ve learned that help debug vim.
Fundamentally this debugging technique is bisection. It’s more complicated than that, because often you will find that you need multiple parts to reproduce a bug, but nonetheless that is the general idea.
If you are unfamiliar with bisection, the general idea is that you have a big pile of stuff, and you take one half of it, check if what you are looking for is in that half, and if it is, you split in half again etc. If it isn’t, you start looking in the second half and recurse.
The above assumes that in your pile of stuff there is exactly one thing you are
looking for. In my experience this is very rarely true with Vim bugs.
Typically issues are a combination of your own
.vimrc and a plugin, or two or
more plugins put together.
You have to be able to reproduce the problem consistently. Usually I can do
this without a lot of effort, though I did have a problem recently where GVim got
slower and slower while using a
GTK3 version of GVim, which was a huge hassle
to track down. Here’s a trick one of my coworkers showed me for when the plugin
in question causes slowdowns:
$ time vim some/file/thats.md +quit
This will show how long it took vim to start up, read the file, and then exit.
🔗 Plugins vs Config
So the first step is to check that it’s not simply your own config. In this
post I will be discussing
pathogen, but other plugin managers should fit in
pretty much the same.
.vimrc looked like this, you would want to comment out the
lines (commented out with the
" character), to avoid loading any plugins:
" runtime bundle/pathogen/autoload/pathogen.vim " call pathogen#infect() augroup vimrc autocmd! au VimEnter * set vb t_vb= au FileType perl let b:dispatch = 'perl %' au FileType perl setlocal formatprg=perltidy au FileType help setlocal nolist au BufWritePre /tmp/* setlocal noundofile au BufWritePre /run/shm/* setlocal noundofile augroup END set nocompatible set conceallevel=2 set undofile set history=10000 set matchpairs+=<:> set showcmd filetype on filetype plugin on filetype plugin indent on syntax enable set autoindent
That’s pretty rare though. Next is to comment out all of your own config, and allow the plugins to be loaded:
runtime bundle/pathogen/autoload/pathogen.vim call pathogen#infect() " augroup vimrc " autocmd! " au VimEnter * set vb t_vb= " au FileType perl let b:dispatch = 'perl %' " au FileType perl setlocal formatprg=perltidy " au FileType help setlocal nolist " au BufWritePre /tmp/* setlocal noundofile " au BufWritePre /run/shm/* setlocal noundofile " augroup END " " set nocompatible " set conceallevel=2 " set undofile " set history=10000 " set matchpairs+=<:> " set showcmd " filetype on " filetype plugin on " filetype plugin indent on " syntax enable " set autoindent
If you do not reproduce your problem, you need to load a plugin and some config. My first step in this case would be to leave all plugins loaded and bisect to the line (or lines) that trigger the problem.
Next you can unroll the plugins. For fugitive I do it like this:
:read! ls /home/frew/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle --color=never
This populates my current buffer (presumably the
.vimrc) with my plugins. I
then highlight the results (with
v) and type:
:normal Iset rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/
:s would work too and would likely be faster, but I tend to use
normal more often. Once you have done this, ensure that you can still
reproduce the problem. Your
.vimrc should look something like this:
set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/commentary set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/eunuch set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/fugitive set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/grepper set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/polyglot set rtp+=~/code/dotfiles/vim/bundle/sleuth augroup vimrc autocmd! au VimEnter * set vb t_vb= au FileType perl let b:dispatch = 'perl %' au FileType perl setlocal formatprg=perltidy au FileType help setlocal nolist au BufWritePre /tmp/* setlocal noundofile au BufWritePre /run/shm/* setlocal noundofile augroup END set nocompatible set conceallevel=2 set undofile set history=10000 set matchpairs+=<:> set showcmd filetype on filetype plugin on filetype plugin indent on syntax enable set autoindent
Note that if, after unrolling your plugins like this, you are suddenly unable to
reproduce your problem, you will need to dive into the source code of your
plugin manager. When I had to do this recently I found that after all plugins
filetype off filetype on
I have no idea why, but it was critical to reproducing my bug, so I pasted it
Now, once you have reproduced the problem you start bisecting away plugins. Just like before you may discover that you comment out half of your plugins and the problem goes away entirely, but when you comment out the other half, the problem is also gone. This is the frustrating situation where there is a plugin in both halves causing the problem.
Eventually you will be able to minimally reproduce the problem. When this happened to me recently I decided to report it to the maintainer most likely to know what to do next. (Very much a hard call though, since Tim Pope is likely to be too busy to look at it.)
I hope this helps! This technique can be used for other tasks too, like finding
out where a weird feature comes from, or even digging into a
(The following includes affiliate links.)
If you’d like to learn more about vim, I can recommend two excellent books. I first learned how to use vi from Learning the vi and Vim Editors. The new edition has a lot more information and spends more time on Vim specific features. It was helpful for me at the time, and the fundamental model of vi is still well supported in Vim and this book explores that well.
Second, if you really want to up your editing game, check out Practical Vim. It’s a very approachable book that unpacks some of the lesser used features in ways that will be clearly and immediately useful. I periodically review this book because it’s such a treasure trove of clear hints and tips.Posted Fri, Sep 8, 2017
If you're interested in being notified when new posts are published, you can subscribe here; you'll get an email once a week at the most.